The Digital Public Library of America is a portal to digitized collections across the United States. I served as a volunteer ambassador for several years. Last year, I used their search engine and collections to create a series of postcards.
Today, DPLA announced the launch of the Digital Virginias service hub, which offers more than 58,000 items for research and exploration. One of the collections highlighted in the press release is a group of 490 photographs from Virginia Commonwealth University that document the 1963 Civil Rights protests in Farmville, Virginia. The photos, like the one to the left of protesters and police, have been released into the public domain.
VCU is sponsoring the Freedom Now Project, an interactive introduction to the Farmville protests. Photos in the Flickr set include extensive notes help with identifications and context. For instance, this photo identifies the protesters and police outside the College Shoppe and includes a link to a newspaper article about the arrests.
Farmville is located in Prince Edward County, which was at the heart of the closing of public schools in Virginia known as Massive Resistance. The photos in the collection were taken by the police with the thought of being used as part of court cases. Now, in the fullness of time, they show the raw emotions–frustration and persistence–as the protesters interact with the police.
In her book, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, Kristen Green tells the story of Massive Resistance from the ground as she grew up in Prince Edward County in the 1980s and attended the private school–known as a segregation academy–that was begun during the public school closings in 1960. She weaves the history with her own story and confronts ugly truths: her grandparents led the fight to close the schools and deny the county’s African American (and poor white) residents five years of schooling rather than integrate the schools. It took nearly 25 years for the private school to admit black students and then only under an ultimatum from the court. She was an eighth grade student at the private school when it was integrated and completely unaware of the still rampant segregation in her community. Ultimately, Green confronts her own ignorance. The book is a compellingly personal look at this dark period of history in Virginia.
Green described the lengths that some African American parents went to get education for their children, often requiring long separations, sending them across the border to North Carolina or to relatives or even strangers in other counties. Most families, however, didn’t have the resources necessary to pay for travel and board.
…the vast majority of children stayed home and their only formal education would come in the form of church training centers. There, for a few hours a day, volunteers taught the kids basic skills. Many children simply played or, if they were old enough, went to work in the fields with their parents and pick tobacco. Some would never return to school. (Green, The Atlantic, 8/1/2015)
Green recommends visiting the Moton Museum in Farmville to learn more. Farmville had been the site of protests beginning with a student strike since 1951 and the former Robert Russa Moton High School, now a National Historic Landmark and museum, isthe student birthplace of America’s Civil Rights Revolution. Three-fourths of the Brown vs Board of Education participants came from the Moton student strike.